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Nature Kindergarten with Ms. Meg

In this day and age, it’s hard to find a kindergarten that means just that: “children’s garden.” In fact, it’s hard to find a kindergarten class that spends more than 30 minutes outside on a playground, much less in a garden or woodland setting.

At Nature Connect Alabama, kindergarten students spend nearly their entire school day outdoors. “It’s such a peaceful place to be,” said Meg Murphy, who spent 12 years in a traditional elementary classroom before becoming the Nature Connect kindergarten lead teacher. She sat under a pole barn lined with small picnic tables while her assistant teacher, Anna Maglov, watched the children rest on cots inside the barn’s screen porch. “We have such flexibility here. The teachers and students feel like a team learning and exploring together. We have plenty of opportunities to calm our minds and bodies.”

Math class is often at picnic tables under a canopy of trees, where Ms. Meg and Ms. Anna use manipulatives to help the children grasp the Alabama State Academic Math Standards. The children learn the same things they would learn in a traditional classroom setting. “Because of our outdoor classroom, we can use objects that are all around us,” said Ms. Meg. “We can use sticks or rocks for math and often teach with manipulatives. We don’t use computers or Smart Boards, but I find that this allows the children to paint a picture in their minds rather than us showing them.” Because of the small 7:1 student-teacher ratio, Ms. Meg and Ms. Anna can cover the kindergarten curriculum material more in-depth and at a faster pace. This allows the children more opportunities for social, emotional, and physical activities that are just as critical in their development as academic standards.

Throughout their 8-3 school day, they are learning problem-solving skills and conflict resolution alongside appropriate math and English Language Arts (ELA) standards. Anyone who has spent time with a five- or six-year-old knows they love moving. At Nature Connect, the children move throughout the day, whether in free play, nature exploration, or walking like little ducklings behind their teachers from one location on the campus to another for lessons.

“It’s better to have more movement for classroom management,” said Ms. Meg. “This age has a lot of energy. Here they can expend their energy while working on their fine and gross motor skills.” This might mean climbing trees, building shelters, picking berries, or building a dam in the Red Gully Creek that flows below the campus. Even when it’s raining, the children are playing outside in weather-appropriate gear. In severe weather, however, they enjoy time inside the converted barn-school-house that is organized similarly to a Montessori classroom.

While Nature Connect’s woodland campus and converted barn may look like something out of a fairy tale, there are boundaries, rules, and expectations that the children must respect. Just like in a traditional classroom, kindergarteners are expected to raise their hands, not interrupt friends or teachers, and show kindness to people, plants, and animals.

“When a teacher is talking, you’re listening. We want to make sure that all of the children can transition to a traditional classroom after our program,” said Ms. Meg.

Throughout the day, the children carry with them “desk backpacks” stuffed with school supplies. When they are on the screen porch for an ELA lesson, they drape their backpacks on chairs, face a whiteboard, and listen to the lesson. After a snack outside under the pole barn, they put on their backpacks and follow their teachers to the bottom of the hill. The movement from one activity to another is critical and helps them to sit still for the next lesson. The children know that the quicker they get through their lessons, the faster they can play. And they love to play.

“You can get academics anywhere, but at Nature Connect, the children also have time just to be kids.”


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